Shit: Reflections on Scarcity


This is a blog about shit.

So if you have an aversion to the word or idea of shit, this post might not be for you. I promise, it’s the only curse word I use. I’m not going to surprise you with an f word, a c word, or the ever-foul zxch word, which to be honest, even I won’t utter in most company.

There are a lot of really shitty things about our sector. It is shitty that we define ourselves by an overly simplified misnomer of what we apparently don’t do – make a profit. It is shitty that the people who work in our sector are not paid what they should be, and even shittier that anyone who is a non-white male gets paid even less.

Some of us have really shitty bosses. Or shitty boards. Or shitty co-workers.

It’s also really shitty that we live in a world that needs the kinds of services we provide. I can’t believe we let people go hungry and homeless. I can’t believe there are so many inequalities and injustices.

I can’t believe that there are people fleeing for their lives, and we have the audacity to turn them away. This is mega mega shit.

I can’t believe we are so shitty to each other. Yes, I realize that no man caused cancer or Huntington’s Disease, or Leprosy. It’s just shitty that we can’t do more to help, and shitty that all too often there are so many stigmas around people with illness.

One only needs to look at people making jokes on Twitter about Charlie Sheen’s HIV diagnosis to realize how shitty we can be to people who are sick.

And don’t get me started on mental illness. Shit.

Scarcity. From Latin “excarpere” – To pluck out. To leave out.

It would make sense that we as an entire sector feel left out in our service of those who are left out.

In the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, the authors do a great job of illustrating the following fact:

 Scarcity creates a mindset that perpetuates scarcity.

This poses an especially complex problem for the philanthropic sector.

How can we love all humanity when we’re forced to pluck and leave out?

I think of a conversation I recently had with fundraiser Tammy Zonker, in which we concluded:

“In our search to do what is important, we find ourselves only able to focus on what is urgent. We find ourselves running a million miles a minute. There is far too much to do and far too little time to do it. And even if we had the time, we simply do not have the resources to make it happen. We learn to thrive in the urgent, not the important. We learn to survive in scarcity, not abundance.”

In other words, shit begets shit.

This is pretty grim, isn’t it?

And look, if I had the solution, I wouldn’t be blogging about it for free on my website that no one ever reads anyways. But I do have some ideas. And I know what helps me get out of bed in the morning in the face of shit and scarcity.

“If it takes us 10 years to get into the shit, it will take us 20 to get out. And the journey starts NOW.”
Jasper Forde, First Among Sequels

My grandfather used to say that we are all equal parts shit and shine. Deal with your shit so you can get on with your shine.

So how do we begin to deal with the shit of scarcity so we can embrace the shine of abundance?

Abundance. From Old French “abonder” – Plenty, overflow, come together in great numbers. From Latin root “undare” – Rise in a wave.

If scarcity is to leave out, the opposite is to rise in a wave together in great numbers.

People, we need to be the abundance.

Look, I don’t want to get too abstract here. You may be saying “how the shit does being the abundance magically fix scarcity? Stop with the TEDTalk platitudinous aphorisms and help us fix this shit.”


First things first. If you can’t give yourself abundance, then stop allowing yourself to survive in scarcity.

Stop doing the urgent so you can start doing the important. Say no. The easiest way to stop people from shitting on you is to not let them shit on you. Easier said than done, I know, especially in a sector that is prone to be filled with people who want to please others. Learn to set boundaries (I can help you with that.) Learn to connect with yourself. At the conference I was recently at, Vanessa Chase talked about how we all too often disconnect ourselves from the work we do, often to the detriment to the work we’re trying to accomplish. Seek to stop scarcity in yourself, first. Not an easy task, but let us simply begin.

Next, stercus accidet. But you already knew that.

Finally, fiercely seek the opposite of scarcity. Fiercely rise in a wave of great numbers.   Just like we cannot remove ourselves from the work we do, we can not combat scarcity alone. Leave no one out, especially not ourselves, and seek to connect. Learn the art of active listening. Too often as we seek outwardly and define our boundaries, we build walls where we need bridges. The scarcity we face makes us rigid – we must learn together to be fiercely gentle. And we forget to play (I can help you with that, too.)

No one said adopting a mindset of abundance and shine in a world of shit and scarcity is easy. It’s hard to be reflective. It’s hard to practice self-care. And it’s hard to stay woke in a world that too often feels like such a scary movie that we need to squint our eyes.

Because you see, the problem of scarcity isn’t limited to our sector. Our sector is trying to solve the problem of scarcity in our world, and in ourselves – not enough food, not enough shelter, not enough health, not enough love. To work in our sector is to combat scarcity everyday.

“Some people are so positive, that when they slip in dog poop, they pirouette” 
Josh Stern

Like the Whos down in Whoville who sang without ribbons, who sang without tags, who sang without packages, boxes and bags.

We can’t expect the Grinch’s heart to grow three sizes. We also can’t chase him up the side of Mount Crumpit, twisting his tiny green balls until he hands over the Who Hash. Though let’s face it, if he pulled this shit every Christmas, we probably should.

Abundance is within our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. This isn’t a simplification. It’s just that sometimes we forget that it is imperative for each of us to reach out – in ask, or in offer.

How will you choose shine in the face of shit today?